Read an Excerpt
By Bryan Smith
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
O'Bannon's house looked every bit as dead as the young woman
who'd been murdered in it a week earlier. All exterior
lighting was off and there was no indication of illumination
within. Drapes were drawn shut over all windows not covered by
shutters. To Dandridge police officer Kent Gowran, they looked
like funeral shrouds. This was a place of death, they
announced, a place of finality and desolation.
Hard to believe there was anyone alive in there, but he'd
observed Mike O'Bannon enter through the front door not two
hours ago, his arms cradling cylindrical objects wrapped in
paper bags. Purchases from the liquor store, no doubt.
Obviously the kid intended to drink himself comatose. Kent
figured he'd do the same in his place.
Kent was on unofficial suicide watch tonight, and so he'd had
ample time to give the matter consideration. He supposed he'd
feel like dying if some random maniac came around and did to
Lacey or one of their precious daughters what some son of a
bitch had done to Mike's girl. But he honestly didn't believe
he'd go through with offing himself. Not because he wouldn't
have the nerve-as a fifteen year National Guard vet Kent had
been called up and deployed many times into severely dangerous
areas-but because he felt the voluntary extinguishing of his
ownlife would be a slap in the face to the memory of those he
He prayed Mike would find the inner strength to come to the
He sighed and reached for the radio handset, meaning to call
in someone to relieve him. The small Dandridge force lacked
the manpower to have a man outside O'Bannon's house
round-the-clock, but the officers had done their best to
coordinate an effort among themselves, taking an hour here,
two hours there whenever possible. Kent had stayed as long as
he could tonight. There was a pile of paperwork to tend to
back at the station before he knocked off for the night.
His fingers brushed the handset and slid away as something in
his peripheral vision drew his attention. His gaze moved from
the house and he peered into the darkness beyond the sodium
glare of the nearest streetlamp. He squinted and saw nothing
at first, and wondered for a moment whether he'd mistaken
floating spots in his eyes for external movement.
But then he did see something.
Darkness emerging from darkness.
A tall, dark, lanky figure stepped into the harsh sodium
glare. Kent could discern little about the stranger, but what
he could detect triggered faint internal alarms. The man-he
assumed the figure was male, but gender wasn't something he
could attest to with certainty at this point-wore a long
black coat. A black hat with a wide brim was perched atop the
figure's head and was tilted down, obscuring most of the
stranger's face-save for a glimpse of a pale, dramatic chin
so pointy it formed a stark V. And over the chin were thin,
bloodless lips that might have been smiling.
The stranger creeped him out. It was almost summer for one
thing, and the night was heavy with typical southern
summertime humidity. It made no sense at all to be out and
about attired in this manner this time of year. Unless, maybe,
you were concealing something.
Kent's internal trouble barometer jumped into the red zone a
moment later when the stranger turned off the street and began
making his way across Mike O'Bannon's lawn. Jimmy was out of
the patrol car in an instant, the need to call in relief
forgotten for the moment. Mike O'Bannon had been emphatic
about not wanting to see anyone, whether it was fellow
officers, family, or friends. He wanted some time away from
the world and alone with his grief.
And Kent meant to see to it that this interloper honored those
He pitched his voice way higher than his normal speaking
voice, utilizing what Lacey called his Scary Cop Voice: "Sir,
you'd best stop right there."
The man kept walking, heedless of the command. Kent saw him in
profile now, getting a better view of the shadowy, pale face.
What he saw sent a helpless shudder through him. The face and
head of the stranger were angular to an almost freakish
degree. Kent had an odd thought-that the man looked more like
a stark and eerie black and white drawing rather than an
actual living creature. Except that was ludicrous, because the
stranger was obviously alive and moving. He was flesh and
blood. Not an otherworldly apparition. Such things weren't
real. But something else was real-the chill settling deep
Steeling himself, he moved to intercede before the stranger
could reach O'Bannon's front door, legs churning furiously to
outpace the other man's unhurried long strides. His right hand
dropped and touched the butt of his service pistol. His pulse
quickened and his breath came out in great puffs as fear
slithered through him like poison gas filling a closed,
unventilated room. A reptilian voice in the depths of his mind
sounded a desperate alarm, telling him if he ever wished to
see Lacey or the girls again he'd turn around and sprint back
to the patrol car.
But Kent refused to yield to the siren call of cowardice, and
instead did what he'd done on fields of battle in Iraq and
Afghanistan-he gritted his teeth and willed himself to face
what he knew to be genuine mortal danger. How he knew this
dark man was as deadly as any enemy combatant he'd faced in
the middle east was a mystery to him, but know it he did, with
an implacable certainty he didn't bother to question.
He caught up with the stranger and laid a firm hand on a
shoulder that felt like cold tarpaulin draped over a jutting
metal frame. The stranger ceased his forward progress and
turned to face Kent. Kent blanched at the sight of those thin,
bloodless lips visible just below the tilted brim of the black
hat. Lips that were somehow worm-like, barely like anything on
any human face he'd ever seen. Lips that now stretched and
tilted upward at the corners, forming an awful, leering smile
like something out of a lurid horror comic from the 50's. All
at once the deep well of bravery he'd managed to tap time and
again throughout his life went dry. He wanted to turn and run,
get in the patrol car and drive like hell, just drive and
drive until the fucking thing ran out of fuel. Because he
needed nothing more in the world now than to put as many miles
between himself and this ... abomination as possible.
But he couldn't move. He was a statue. Somehow this thing,
which he knew now was neither man or woman (was, in fact,
nothing human at all), had reached into his mind and turned
off his motor control the way he'd flip off a light switch.
Tears burst from his Kent's eyes and his bowels uncorked an
eruption of shit that made the seat of his trousers sag.
Kent saw that the thing's right hand gripped a massive book,
the kind of oversized tome some people displayed on their
living room coffee tables. Even here in the dark Kent sensed
something infernal about it, something unnatural and foul. It
was bound in thick and cracked ancient black leather and its
brittle pages reeked like something long hidden from light and
fresh air, like a corpse interred in a tomb a lifetime ago
brought back out into the world of living things. Beneath this
smell was another, fainter aroma, a scent of smoldering ash.
Faint tendrils of smoke leaked from the edges of the book.
The book was as obscene as its bearer, perhaps more so.
A sound issued from those worm-like lips, a dusty, dry
insidious sound, like the laughter of the devil himself.
Kent couldn't begin to fathom the nature of this thing.
Perhaps it really was the devil, inexplicably arrived here in
Dandridge to incite infernal chaos. Why that should be he
didn't know, but Kent was well past the stage of giving a damn
about making sense of insanity. He knew he was doomed. He
wished only for an end to this suspended state and a final
deliverance from this horror.
More of that dry almost-laughter, followed by a quiet voice
that touched his face like a cold breeze: "Your wish is my
The thing's free hand reached out for Kent, splayed its
fingers and open palm on his chest. Kent felt the presence
like tendrils of ice pressing through the shirt of his
And the thing said, "Die."
And so Kent died, his heart stopping abruptly, like a watch
that has wound down.
Excerpted from Deathbringer
by Bryan Smith
Copyright © 2006 by Bryan Smith.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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